Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

Experiencing Rosh Hashanah With Rav Aharon Shechter z”tl

Most of the hespeidim and articles that have appeared since the sad petirah of Rav Aharon Schechter zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, focused upon his absolute hisbatlus, his total subjugation, to his rebbi muvhak, Rav Yitzchok Hutner. Indeed, his only volume of maamorim, recorded by talmidim, has no name other than the generic “Maamarei Rosh Hashanah.” Yet, this itself is the greatest testimony to his humility and single-minded devotion to his talmidim. He made no effort to publish his own shiurim, either in halacha or machshavah, being fully content to devote his life to his talmidim and the greater Klal Yisroel.

At this time, it seems that the least we can do is to delve into just one of his penetrating and profound maamarim about the upcoming Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah.

As I mentioned in these pages after the petirah, in the early years after Rav Hutner’s own passing, Rav Schechter did not present any of his own chiddushim in his maamarim. He would learn publicly from the sefer Pachad Yitzchok, with tremendous insight and depth. However, with the passage of time, he did present his own thoughts, their inspiration and derech continuing to be from his rebbi muvhak.

In Maamar 14 of that volume, Rav Aharon addresses the basic question of what it means to receive a birkas hashanah, a blessing for the new year. We use the phrase “May the new year and its blessings begin,” but what exactly does that offer entail and what is the nature of its promise?

The following is a free rendition of his thoughts in this very original maamar. We will then suggest some broader context for his inspiring words.

First of all, Rav Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok, Rosh Hashanah, Maamar 4) already taught us that every Yom Tov carries a title such as Go’el Yisroel, Melamed Torah L’amo Yisroel, etc. However, we have a mesorah that declares Ge’on Yaakov to be the emblem of Rosh Hashanah. Even knowing that important fact, we are still left with the question of why Rosh Hashanah is even counted in the list of Yomim Tovim. Surely, each Yom Tov is based upon a specific event such Yetzias Mitzrayim or Mattan Torah. What is that moment or event related to Rosh Hashanah?

The introduction to the Malchiyos section of the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf is the famous tefillah that states, “Aleinu leshabeiach l’Adon hakol laseis gedulah l’yotzeir bereishis – It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to ascribe greatness to the molder of primeval creation.” The Vilna Gaon makes clear that when the prayer continues that we are not like the nations of the land, this is a statement that they have a philosophy and approach that is different than ours. The essential difference is that they are “people of the land,” whose aspirations, goals and needs are earthy and earthly. However, ours are the Torah and mitzvos. This is our proclamation of havdalah – the distinction between us and them.

To delve deeper, the Gemara in Brachos states that from the day Hashem created the world, there was no one who called Him Adon until Avrohom Avinu. The issue with this categorical statement is that we have many sources that Adam Harishon had already referred to Hashem as Adon. However, in truth, there is no contradiction between the Medrash and the Gemara. We know that in the early pesukim about creation, Hashem’s name of Elokim is used exclusively. Later, the name Havayah is added, and it is explained as relating to rachamim and din. The Medrash, however, explains that the name Elokim was utilized until there was a complete world. After the world had been completed, the name Havayah was added, signifying the sheleimus of the beriyah.

We know that Hashem revealed His will in two stages of perfection, one at creation and one at Mattan Torah. The difference between the two is that creation automatically praises the Creator, as the posuk states, “The heavens tell of the glory of Hashem.” However, the revelation at Mattan Torah is not automatic. It depends upon the members of Klal Yisroel actually learning Torah and performing its mitzvos. Now, Rosh Hashanah is known as a day of prayer, and the Nefesh Hachaim explains that in this way we become partners, so to speak, with Hashem in creation. In the prayers of Rosh Hashanah, which is the day that man was created, the inner will of the Al-mighty was revealed, as reflected by the actions of Klal Yisroel when they engage in Torah study.

This is also the distinction between the Ten Statements with which the world was created and the Ten Commandments given at Har Sinai. The songs and praises of the universe do not actually flow from man or his efforts. However, man’s contribution to this begins with Avrohom Avinu’s assignation to the Creator of the title Adon Olam. Avrohom Avinu, in the world of nature and its rules, should not have any heirs. He is incapable on any level of conceiving. However, when he asks, “How will I know that I will inherit this land of which You speak?” it means that he is certain, despite the laws of nature, that he will indeed succeed and will procreate. That is why Avrohom Avinu is granted the right to say Adon Olam, because he virtually ignores the laws of nature, which apply only to the others, but for him there is only the will of Hashem, which overrides all other rules and regulations.

We can now understand that on Rosh Hashanah, Klal Yisroel does not sing to the L-rd of the land, but to the Adon of the universe (olam). The chiddush of the avos was that they perceived the totality of Hashem’s creation and praised Him for it. The choosing of Avrohom from amongst all other people in the world was based upon this distinction. On Rosh Hashanah, when we celebrate and commemorate the creation of man, we specifically identify the atem keruim adam – the fact that now only Klal Yisroel fulfills the mandate and glory of being a human being who understands, to whatever level that is possible, the majesty of the Creator. He is not limited to only Adon ha’aretz, but to the greater world and all that is in it.

This is the brocha of a new year for which we daven and hope. Where the rest of the world perceives only, at best, maaseh bereishis, we see a new year of Mattan Torah, kedusha and hidden greatness. This is the Ge’on Yaakov of Rosh Hashanah that recognizes not only a better, higher, loftier world, but a totally new world, unheralded by anyone else on earth. The moment for which we were searching to make Rosh Hashanah a Yom Tov is not only the creation of man, but of the new man, which is Klal Yisroel. That discovery is truly worthy of declaring a Yom Tov, for it defines our essence and grants us the ultimate purpose of justifying and validating creation itself.

I hope and am mispallel that these lofty words grant us a glimpse into who the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Schechter, was. When he demanded a different vocabulary for a yeshiva bochur, when he presented a lifestyle of kedusha and taharah at Camp Morris to every kollel couple, when he could be both tough and gentle with no contradictions, he was demonstrating to us all what it means to be one who lives by “Veholachta bidrochov” and how to emulate the Creator.

On Rosh Hashanah, Sarah Imeinu was remembered because she required an entire new creation, which can flow only from Rosh Hashanah. The Isha Hashunamis was able to achieve techiyas hameisim because Rosh Hashanah grants new life where there is none at all. The rosh yeshiva taught us how we can access the power of Rosh Hashanah, when we become different, higher and better than all others. Let us try this year to follow his majestic example, as we access the Ge’on Yaakov for ourselves and the nation at large.

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